Baseball fans often hear of researchers uncovering records set by current and former players which sometimes lead to discussions about which records are most likely never to be broken. Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Cy Young’s career win total, and Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak are often put up as examples of records that will stand forever. Although not recognized as a record of any kind, Lew Drill holds an achievement that it is safe to say may never be broken by another ballplayer, or anyone else for that matter. The lifelong bachelor married for the first time when he was 86 years old.
Lewis L. Drill was born on May 9, 1877, in Browerville, Minnesota, a small town in Todd County in the central part of the state near St. Cloud. His parents were Charles Warren and Sephronia, or Sephrona (Sheets) Drill, both originally from Ohio. The Drills married in 1872 and two years later Sephronia purchased a quarter-section of land in Todd County where the family engaged in farming. Lewis was the third of eight children born to the Drills. Brothers Alfred and Frank were older, Guy, Earl, and Harry were younger, and the six sons were followed by two sisters, Hollie and Ferris.
After graduating from Long Prairie High School, Lew enrolled at Hamline University in St. Paul, where he captained the baseball team. While in school he also won several oratorical contests, a prelude to his later career as an attorney. While attending Hamline, Drill, along with his older brother Frank, played semipro ball in various small towns in eastern South Dakota.
After graduating from Hamline in 1901, Drill enrolled in law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. It was noted, “He gets free tuition at this university for his services in the baseball and football teams of this school,” implying that he was awarded an athletic scholarship.1 In addition to catching for the baseball team, Drill was a 5-foot-6, 186-pound tackle on the school’s football squad.
In 1902 the Washington Senators regular catcher, William “Boileryard” Clarke, reported late to spring training because of a salary dispute and the team needed a catcher for an exhibition game against Jersey City. Drill informed Washington manager Tom Loftus that he would be glad to fill in for Clarke, so the Senators signed him to a professional contract.
Drill showed well, even drawing a compliment from Senators outfielder Ed Delahanty, who said, “He is a born ball player. I do not know of a professional who could have gone into the game upon such short notice, caught pitchers who are known all over the circuit for their speed, and come out of the game without a passed ball against his record.”2
Before the establishment of the NCAA in 1906, the Amateur Athletic Union governed eligibility for college athletics. The AAU ruled that Drill was now a professional and he was suspended from the Georgetown team.3 However, a golden opportunity presented itself for Drill when another catcher in the Washington camp, Tim Donahue, battled an illness all spring and Loftus suspended Clarke in late April.
Drill opened the season as the Senators starting catcher and rapped two singles in his major-league debut on April 23 against Bill Dinneen of the Boston Americans at American League Park in Washington. Washington’s winning pitcher, veteran Al Orth, “was profuse in his congratulations of the young catcher and remarked that he didn’t want anything better from any catcher.”4 Drill singled three more times the next day off Boston starter Cy Young and established himself as the team’s regular catcher, at one point playing in 16 straight games until Clarke was reinstated in late May. The two shared backstopping duties the rest of the season and other than the two games in which Drill was loaned to Baltimore in mid-July, he batted .262 in 73 games during his rookie season. That fall Loftus signed him to a Washington contract for 1903.
With Clarke back in the fold, Drill had less opportunity to play in 1903. He batted .253 in 51 games and kept up his studies while playing ball, earning his law degree from Georgetown in June. After the season he and Bob Blewett, a classmate at Georgetown and a former pitcher with the New York Giants, opened a law office in Seattle; one report stated, “Both men are out of baseball for good.”5
Drill must have reconsidered: He was one of the first to report for Senators spring training in 1904. He began the season splitting time with Clarke but on July 4 the Senators acquired veteran catcher Malachi Kittridge from the Boston Beaneaters and two weeks later Washington sold Drill, who had seen action in 46 games, to the Detroit Tigers.6 He played regularly for the Tigers over the second half of the season, batting .244 in 51 games. Between Washington and Detroit, Drill played in 97 games in 1904, batting .255.
In the spring of 1905, it was expected that veterans Bob Wood and John Sullivan would share catching duties for Detroit with Drill being traded, released, or sent to the minor leagues. With little hope of making the team, Drill was “taken south on general principles”7 but when neither Wood nor Sullivan panned out, Drill reclaimed the staring catcher’s job by mid-May. He appeared in 72 games for the Tigers and batted 261. Probably, the highlight of his season was witnessing a brash 18-year-old rookie from the South Atlantic League named Ty Cobb make his major-league debut on August 30. Cobb doubled in three at-bats and Drill rapped two singles as the Tigers catcher that day.
Drill said he was Cobb’s first roommate and later told a story about the rookie: “We had just gone to our hotel room in Boston when Cobb pulled out a big revolver and put it on the dresser. ‘What do you want that thing for,’ I asked him. He said, ‘Well, some people up north here don’t like us southerners.’ I told him he better get rid of it, and he did.”8
Detroit offered Drill a contract for 1906 but early that spring placed him on waivers. He was claimed by the Boston Americans, but when he made it known he would not report, the claim was withdrawn. Detroit then sold him to St. Paul of the American Association for $1,000.9 By this time Drill had opened a law office in St. Paul and began angling to play closer to home, where he could devote more time to his practice. Another reason that Drill was not retained by Tigers was the emergence of a promising new catcher in the Tigers camp, Charley “Boss” Schmidt.
The sale concluded the major-league career of Drill. In four seasons (1902-1905) with Washington and Detroit of the American League (and two games with Baltimore), he played in 293 games and batted .255. His 231 hits included 41 doubles, 10 triples, and 2 home runs. He scored 87 runs and knocked in an even 100. He finished with an equal number of walks and strikeouts (114). Drill had a reputation as good handler of young pitchers but was not a particularly strong defensive player. He led the American League in passed balls (105) in 1905 and finished third in 1904 (92). That year, his 24 errors by a catcher led the league.
No head-to-head data is available, but Drill claimed that he had great success against New York Highlanders pitcher Clark Griffith. “I used to kid him every time I saw him. ‘Let me know when you’re due to pitch,’ I used to yell at him, ‘I want to fatten up my batting average.’ He was really my meat.”10
Drill was not done with baseball quite yet. After playing the 1906 season with St. Paul, he was sold to Columbia (South Carolina) of the South Atlantic League in May 1907.11 Before he was scheduled to report to Columbia, he was offered the position of player-manager with Pueblo, Colorado, of the Western League, and he accepted the position. After one season in Pueblo, he fielded offers from Denver and Kansas City of the Western League as well as the University of Minnesota for a position as baseball coach.
In the spring of 1908 Terre Haute of the Central League purchased Drill from the Saints (he was still St. Paul’s property) for $750 and signed him to a contract for $600 per month for six months as player-manager.12 Poor performance on the field (the Hottentots finished seventh in the eight-team league) and meddling by team owner Looie Smith resulted in Drill being given his unconditional release after the season. Drill’s next stop was as player-manager with the Superior Blues of the Class D Minnesota-Wisconsin League in 1909. The club finished last, but Drill did help kick off the career of his 18-year-old shortstop Dave “Beauty” Bancroft, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career.
Early in 1910 Drill was offered the manager’s job with the Monmouth (Illinois) team of the Central Association. That spring he also entered politics for the first time when he ran for municipal judge in St. Paul, with the acceptance of the Monmouth job contingent on the results of the election. He lost his bid for the judgeship and spent the season in Monmouth, his last in professional baseball.
As for Drill’s offseason law practice in St. Paul, he entered a partnership with his brother Frank (who also attended Hamline and Georgetown) and the firm added other partners over the years. In 1908 the law firm of Drill, Downing and Drill was said to be “one of the largest in St. Paul” and “among the foremost concerns in the United States. Special attention is paid by the firm to collections and adjustments.”13
In 1928 Senator Thomas Schall put Drill’s name forward to Republican President Calvin Coolidge as a candidate for United States attorney for Minnesota.14 With “numerous and high standing endorsements”15 including those of the Ramsey County Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, Drill was nominated by Coolidge, confirmed by the Senate, and assumed office July 1. Four years later he was reappointed to another four-year term by President Herbert Hoover.
During his time as US attorney, Drill was involved with several high-profile cases. In 1932 he successfully prosecuted Wilbur Foshay,16 a businessman who made a fortune in electric utilities, for conducting a pyramid scheme involving the sale of stock in one of his companies. Foshay was convicted of mail fraud and sentence to federal prison.
Early in 1932 the country was held spellbound by news of the kidnapping of the baby of Minnesota-born aviator Charles Lindbergh. After the baby was found dead, public outcry resulted in passage of the Federal Kidnapping Act, also known as the Little Lindbergh Law, on June 22, 1932. The act made kidnapping across state lines a federal crime and placed investigation of it under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In June 1933 Chicago gangster Roger Touhy and three accomplices were suspected of kidnapping William Hamm Jr., heir to the multimillion-dollar Minneapolis-based Hamm’s Brewery fortune, and holding him for ransom of $100,000. Drill convened a federal grand jury that which returned indictments for kidnapping and conspiracy against Touhy and his cohorts. As the crime took place in Minnesota, and Hamm had been transported across state lines by his kidnappers, Drill had jurisdiction over the case. He obtained Touhy’s extradition from Milwaukee, where he and his gang were being held after their arrest.
A month later Oklahoma oil tycoon George Urschel was kidnapped. Drill got involved in this case when part of the $200,000 in marked bills used as ransom was traced to four men in St. Paul. Drill charged them with conspiracy to violate the kidnapping law, but the men were later released.
US Attorney General Homer Cummings, an appointee in the new Democratic Franklin Roosevelt administration was under pressure to gain convictions in both kidnappings. (The Hamm case was first prosecuted under the new Lindbergh Law.) Cummings moved to replace Drill with a special prosecutor from the Justice Department, accusing Drill of misconduct by improperly releasing the men found with the Urschel ransom money and leaking the names of the witnesses in the Hamm case.
Drill vehemently denied the accusations, calling the charges “trumped up,”17 and complained of “interference” from Washington. When Drill refused to step aside before either the Hamm or Urschel cases could come to trial, he was removed from office.18 (Touhy was acquitted when latent fingerprint identification, used in the case for the first time by the FBI crime lab exonerated him and implicated another suspect.19)
After removal from his post as United States attorney, Drill returned to his private law practice while remaining active on Republican Party politics. He served as the Minnesota state GOP chairman, was a Republican presidential elector (1952 Eisenhower/Nixon ticket), and was co-chair of the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Minnesotan Harold Stassen in 1944.
Drill was a staunch supporter of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, who in the early 1950s made accusations of Communist infiltration into the federal government and other areas of American life. In 1954 Drill echoed McCarthy’s sentiments when as president of the Minnesota Coalition of Patriotic Societies he said, “The United States is in danger. I want to call your attention to the fact that the U.N. was conceived by a couple of traitors – Alger Hiss. …”20 That same year Drill was appointed state chairman of an organization called the Citizen’s Committee to Inquire into the Personal Finances of United States Senators.21
Drill continued practicing law, his firm concentrating more on civil cases than criminal. He continued working until he was well into his 80s, maintaining offices at the Commerce Building in downtown St. Paul for 60 years. Late in life he developed a friendship with Edith Nicholson, a milliner, and in 1964 the couple married. He was 86 and she 67; it was the first marriage for either of them. After a brief illness, Drill died on July 4, 1969, at the age of 92. After services at Willwerscheid and Peters Mortuary he was buried in Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery in St. Paul.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Len Levin and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics from Drill’s playing career are taken from Baseball-Reference.com; genealogical and family history was obtained from Ancestry.com.
The author also used information from Drill’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
1 Duluth (Minnesota) News-Tribune, December 4, 1900: 4.
2 “Drill’s Wonderful Performance,” Washington Times, April 10, 1902: 5.
3 “Drill Is Suspended by Georgetown Team,” Washington Times, April 12, 1902: 5.
4 Washington Evening Star, April 24, 1902: 10.
5 Washington Evening Star, January 26, 1904: 10.
6 “Detroit Signs Drill, Still After Coughlan,” Detroit Free Press, July 23, 1904: 3.
7 Detroit Free Press, May 28, 1905: 12.
8 “Drill, Once .394 as Senator, ‘Fattened’ on Clark Griffith,” Minneapolis Star, September 27, 1966: 37.
9 “Lew Drill to Boss Terre Haute Team,” Evansville (Indiana) Courier, February 6, 1908: 5.
10 “Drill, Once .394 as Senator, ‘Fattened’ on Clark Griffith.”
11 “Columbia Gets Drill,” Washington Post, May 29, 1907: 17.
12 “Lew Drill Manager of Terre Haute Team,” Indianapolis News, February 8, 1908: 14.
13 “Lew Drill to Boss Terre Haute Team.”
14 “Lewis Drill Pushed for U.S. Attorney,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 1, 1928: 2.
15 “Schall to Push Lew Drill for French’s Post,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 12, 1928: 8.
16 In 1929 Foshay built the 32-story Foshay Tower, for many years the tallest building in Minneapolis.
17 “Cummings Scoffs at Drill Charges of a ‘Frame-Up,’” Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 28, 1933: 1, 10.
18 “Capital Unsatisfied with Drill’s Work, Cummings Says,” Minneapolis Tribune, September 15, 1933: 1.
19 George “Machine Gun” Kelly and his wife, Katherine, were eventually convicted for the Urschel kidnapping and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
20 Minneapolis Tribune, July 11, 1954: 33.
21 “State Group Demands All U.S. Senators Explain Finances,” Minneapolis Tribune, November 24, 1954: 8.